Oculus Rift virtual reality headset ships after years in development

After a closely watched development period spanning nearly four years, Oculus VR has finally begun the shipping stage of their highly anticipated virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift. Oculus, whose summer 2012 Kickstarter campaign for the Rift raised over $2.4 million, began shipping the first of the devices to 20 different countries and regions on March 28. Select retail locations will also stock the Rift beginning in April.

“Independent projects are some of the best. If you look at mobile, some of the biggest successes on mobile have actually been indies. It took a lot of other big games companies years to finally get to mobile, even when there was mass market,” said Brendan Iribe, co-founder and CEO of Oculus.

“The good part about VR is that pretty much every developer that has ever made a PC 3-D game or console game wants to make a VR game. It’s like they’re leaving their PC or console game development company to go start a VR game or to go join a VR game company. So it is luckily the dream of almost every developer ... You couldn’t necessarily say the same thing about just mobile games.”

The $599 pre-order package includes the headset with built-in headphones and microphone, sensor, the Oculus Remote and an Xbox One controller. Also included in the bundle is the virtual reality platformer Lucky’s Tale, developed by Playful.

The company has boasted that by the end of 2016, more than 100 games playable on the Rift will be available for sale.

“You put on the headset and the cable goes over the back of your head. We wanted to make it incredibly simple, so you take the sensor out of the box, set it down, plug it into your PC and you’re done,” said Nate Mitchell, vice president of Oculus.

A second bundle is purchasable for $1,499 and includes a PC with specifications guaranteed to meet the recommended system requirements for the Rift. Although Oculus’ partnership with Microsoft has made the Rift primarily a gaming device, Oculus has been adamant that the device will pave the way for new forms of media, productivity enhancement, advertising and social applications; Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion.

Most notably, in May 2015, virtual reality software company AltspaceVR launched a public beta for Rift users to use on Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, the fourth iteration of Rift prototypes. The software allowed users to inhabit a shared virtual world complete with spatial voice communications, Internet content streamed to virtual screens, object interaction and motion tracking.

“It’s worth remembering that virtual reality has never always been about gaming. Any real virtual reality enthusiast can look back at VR science fiction. It’s not about playing games,” explained Palmer Luckey, Oculus co-founder and Rift inventor. “The Matrix, Snow Crash, all this fiction was not about sitting in a room playing video games. It’s about being in a parallel digital world that exists alongside our own, communicating with other people, playing with other people.”

In the industrial realm, the Rift has proven to be of interest to a number of different fields, including architecture and the automotive industry.

According to Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, virtual architecture will be comparable to reality in as little as five years. Virtual architecture software has been used with the Rift to create concepts of houses, trains and common infrastructure.

In January 2015, Audi commenced the use of Development Kit 2 at select dealerships in order to allow potential buyers to configure a car they would be interested in, as well as see what it would be like to drive the car, effectively offering an entire dealership experience with a minimal amount of hassle. The system, entitled Audi City, functions alongside sales channels in Beijing, Berlin, London and Moscow, among other cities.

“Hand in hand with our dealers, we are bringing digital innovations into the dealership in order to improve convenience and to provide even better advice. With the Audi VR experience, we are once again demonstrating the pioneering role of the four rings in this area,” said Luca de Meo, member of the board of management for sales and marketing at Audi AG.

Looking toward the future, Oculus plans on shipping the Oculus Touch in the second half of 2016, allowing consumers to make use of their arms in the virtual world with the help of a pair of mirrored controllers.

Each lightweight motion controller will come equipped with a joystick, button, a trigger for shooting and a trigger for grabbing. The controllers are fully tracked by the Rift system, giving the user the feeling that their hands are present in the virtual world and allowing for activities such as clay sculpting and sandbox gaming.

According to Luckey, the future path of the Rift will be something to pay close attention to, eventually culminating where “virtual reality and augmented reality are going to end up using a lot of the same technologies and probably converge into the same hardware … it will probably get to a point where it’s something you can wear all day, everyday. That’s going to take a long time though.”

Although orders placed now for the device will likely not be fulfilled until later this year, the Oculus Rift can be purchased directly from Oculus, or as part of the Oculus-ready PC bundle on Amazon.